Facebook's 'OpenCellular' Aims to Make Mobile Networks Cheaper to Build

Watch out Nokia, Ericsson and more! Facebook wants to bring cellular infrastructure costs down to get underserved communities connected. Oh, and maybe grow its ad revenues!

Dan Jones, Mobile Editor

July 6, 2016

3 Min Read
Facebook's 'OpenCellular' Aims to Make Mobile Networks Cheaper to Build

Facebook is again shaking up the wireless infrastructure sector, introducing an open-source wireless access design platform, aimed -- it says -- at bringing mobile Internet service to underserved communities around the world at a lower cost.

Facebook engineer Kashif Ali introduced the "OpenCellular" platform in a blog post Wednesday. The "software-defined wireless access platform" with radio (RF) and baseband computing (GBC) subsystems that can be used to design infrastructure "from a network in a box to an access point supporting everything from 2G to LTE," Ali writes.

"Facebook plans to open-source the hardware design, along with necessary firmware and control software, to enable telecom operators, entrepreneurs, OEMs, and researchers to locally build, implement, deploy, and operate wireless infrastructure based on this platform," Ali notes.

The first version of the OpenCellular platform will be available this summer. Then it is expected to be further developed with community support going forward.

Figure 1: Facebook's First "OpenCellular" Platform Design (Source: Facebook) (Source: Facebook)

Facebook argues that outsourcing an access platform and the associated software will make it cheaper and easier to develop mobile infrastructure. Also, since a large part of the cost of wireless deployment is in land rights and rent costs, Facebook says that one of the goals of the project is to deliver "architectural and design improvements that would result in lower costs associated with the civil and supporting infrastructure."

This basically means that it is trying to make the radios and associated baseband controller systems small, and as simple as possible to deploy.

"One of the reasons the expansion of cellular networks has stalled is that the ecosystem is constrained. Traditional cellular infrastructure can be very expensive, making it difficult for operators to deploy it everywhere and for smaller organizations or individuals to solve hyperlocal connectivity challenges. It's often unaffordable for them to attempt to extend network access in both rural and developed communities," Ali writes.

The social network giant hopes to change that with the OpenCellular project. It says it will work with the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) to develop an open source community around the platform. (See Facebook: TIP Will Open Telecom Hardware and BCE 2016: Reaching Out to Telecom.)

Want to know more about 4G? Check out our dedicated 4G content channel here on Light Reading.

Facebook is currently testing a 2G version of the platform at its Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters. It has sent text messages, made voice calls and made "basic" data connections so far.

Facebook is no ingenue in the wireless infrastructure field anymore either. It has already developed a 60GHz, high-speed radio and antenna system aimed at getting high-speed wireless access to underserved areas. (See Facebook Lauds Terragraph Cost Savings and Facebook Debuts Terragraph & ARIES to Extend Wireless.)

Facebook says that it hopes to connect the unconnected with these wireless projects. "As of the end of 2015, more than 4 billion people were still not connected to the internet, and 10 percent of the world's population were living outside the range of cellular connectivity," Ali notes.

Of course, getting more people online has a very direct benefit for Facebook too. It derives revenue from serving up ads to people connected to mobile networks. In fact, Facebook made 82% of its adverstising revenue in the second quarter of this year from mobile ads.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Dan Jones

Mobile Editor

Dan is to hats what Will.I.Am is to ridiculous eyewear. Fedora, trilby, tam-o-shanter -- all have graced the Jones pate during his career as the go-to purveyor of mobile essentials.

But hey, Dan is so much more than 4G maps and state-of-the-art headgear. Before joining the Light Reading team in 2002 he was an award-winning cult hit on Broadway (with four 'Toni' awards, two 'Emma' gongs and a 'Brian' to his name) with his one-man show, "Dan Sings the Show Tunes."

His perfectly crafted blogs, falling under the "Jonestown" banner, have been compared to the works of Chekhov. But only by Dan.

He lives in Brooklyn with cats.

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